VIDEO, POWERPOINT CLOG MILITARY AIRWAVES Think downloading a video clip at home is a pain? Try doing it aboard a frigate, chasing enemy forces through the north Arabian Sea during monsoon season. Or under hostile fire in a makeshift Army post in the Afghan hinterland.The typical American soldier stationed overseas has access to hundreds of times as much network bandwidth as the average grunt in the first Gulf War. But despite all the extra capacity, U.S. troops face a bandwidth shortage that dictates where ships are sent, when drones can fly and what kind of messages sailors and soldiers can receive.Streaming video is the biggest bandwidth hog, according to Steven Aftergood, an analyst with the Federation of American Scientists. Everybody wants to look at what the spy drones and satellites see.Take the battle of Takur Ghar -- one of the bloodiest encounters in the Afghan campaign. While U.S. special forces engaged in a mountaintop firefight, a Predator drone fed real-time digital video to top brass in Tampa, Florida.Gen. Lance Lord, the chief of Air Force Space Command, said the Afghan effort used 10 times more bandwidth than Operation Desert Storm, with one-tenth the human forces involved.Video was one reason. But so was the military's predilection for PowerPoint presentations."Some say that 70 percent of that bandwidth was consumed by PowerPoint briefings," Lord joked.My latest Wired News story has additional details on the military's bandwidth shortage.THERE'S MORE: The Pentagon does have some long term solutions to this problem. By 2004, the Defense Department hopes to fatten its pipes by linking 90 sites worldwide with fiber optic cable into a "Global Information Grid." The military is also looking into satellites that communicate by laser light to ease the bandwidth squeeze.But that's years away -- at least. For now, U.S. troops will have to rely on aging birds and borrowed time to talk.
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